Amid a sea of bald heads, midlife soul patches and salt-and-pepper ponytails, one triumphant cherry-red Mohawk welcomed X to the 9:30 club stage.

Not that the wearer was necessarily more committed to the sounds of the fabled L.A. punksters than anyone else in the decidedly mature crowd. As the earsplitting sound of Billy Zoom's guitar intro to "Johnny Hit and Run Pauline" reminded everyone of how the instrument came to be known as an ax, audience and band alike threw themselves into twitchy abandon.

John Doe, Exene Cervenka and D.J. Bonebrake were in town in August as the Knitters, X's country cousins. That band's sound seems timely in a music scene where alt-country is too ubiquitous to be "alt" anymore. But X is a true time capsule of the Reagan era, melding the vertical twangs of rockabilly guitar with tribal drums and bass, as well as vocals that spit like machine guns and soar like bombers.

Cervenka and Doe managed to maintain their modal harmonies with surprising precision amid the din. And although Cervenka, tossing herself around like a dissolute Raggedy Ann, didn't nail that high note on "riiight" the way she did back in 1983, "Breathless" seemed even more credible as an expression of middle-aged lust.

Earlier, Doe briefly joined opener Juliana Hatfield. The petite rocker set her sweet voice against her raucous guitar to delightful effect. After Hatfield and Doe sang an aggressive, calendar-defying version of the Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved?" she declared to him, accurately, "That was [expletive] awesome." He replied, accurately, "Right back atcha."

-- Pamela Murray Winters

At right, veteran Los Angeles rockers X shown during a San Diego performance in July.